The delight of whisky enjoyed alongside intensely flavoured morsels is well understood. Cheese, salmon and chocolate grace stand after stand at whisky shows, cosying up to drams to reveal new flavours in each. Whisky also has a role as an ingredient in produce. Across whisky producing countries it appears in marmalades, fudges and even sauces, bringing with it an intriguing base note of flavour. At its best, whisky acts almost as a seasoning: adding spice, sweetness and smokiness. The right whisky must be chosen judiciously, so as not to overwhelm and maintain balance. Flavour is important, matching softer flavours with their very delicate counterparts.
Texture and mouthfeel are important too, particularly when creating products that are rich or unctuous. We speak to three producers who carefully select the whiskey they use in creating their signature products.
Whiskey cured gradvadlax
Travelling along the wild Atlantic Irish coast, the air hangs thick with the smell of smoke. Peat, oak and beech linger in the air as the ocean tempest rages offshore. Its waters lap against the rocky outcrop where Connemara Smokehouse is perched at the end of Bunowen Pier. The smokehouse is the oldest surviving smoke house in Connemara. It is family run with Graham and Saoirse Roberts personally managing each aspect of the business: from sourcing to salting, smoking, packaging, and delivery. Graham hand fillets each fish, a mesmerising spectacle and a remarkable feat in an industry dominated by laser pin bone machines and gravity fed slicers.
The Roberts make gravadlax, a traditional Scandinavian dish with a distinctly Irish twist in place of the customary acquavit: Irish whiskey. The salmon is marinated in sugar, salt, dill and Jameson Irish whiskey. On his choice of whiskey Graham says, “I really enjoy a drop of Jameson, and I think there is a natural pairing between these two very traditional Irish products. Salmon is iconic in Irish culture and features in its mythology. There is something nice about bringing the two products together to celebrate each other.” On what the whiskey contributes to the gradvadlax, Graham muses on the importance of balance, “No one flavour can dominate. The dill, the whiskey, the sugar, salt and salmon all come together to create a lovely harmony.”
Line caught smoked tuna
Gorgeous with a salty whisky such as Springbank.
Wild Connemara smoked salmon
A fine pairing with the malty notes in Glen Garioch Founders Reserve.
Irish whiskey black pudding
McCarthy’s of Kanturk
Jack McCarthy is a well known personality in Irish cooking. Visiting his shop is a head spinning experience, where Wonkaesque experiments using pigs head, offal and trotters come thick and fast – a veritable cornucopia of swinish treats. He proudly displays ledgers from the five generations his family business has been located in Kanturk. An entry dating back to the 1890s confirms a legacy of nose-to-tale production with entries showing the sale of skin and hides. The McCarthy’s have always focused on using every bit of the animal. Jack’s black pudding is legendary. It was served to the Queen of England during her recent state visit to Ireland.
Jack has recently found success with incorporating whiskey into his puddings, winning at Blas na hEireann, The Irish Food Awards and taking Silver in the World Black Pudding Championships in France this year for his Irish cream, apple and whiskey black pudding, made with Teeling Small Batch. The idea came about when Michelin starred chef Ross Lewis approached Jack to suggest using cream and apples in a pudding. “There is history in this area of people using cream to add richness to the puddings and make them smooth. We needed to add something distinctive, something to make it our own, so we added some whiskey and it was gorgeous.”
Perfect with a rye whiskey such as Rittenhouse rye.
Chocolate and pistachio black pudding
Works remarkably well with Dunville PX, or indeed any sherry finished Irish malt.
Whisky cured venison
Prior to the advent of household refrigeration, if you were not fortunate to have access to a well-stocked ice house, food preservation was part of the ebb and flow of seasonal eating. Seasonal and local were not trends, they were a necessary part of life. Preserving means such as drying, curing and smoking developed world wide, using the methods best suited to the climate, and using materials that were plentiful in the area. Tombuie Charcuterie carries on this tradition. Founded in 1981 by Sally and John Crystal, current owners Robin and Alison Tuke maintain the same commitment to provenance and traditional smoking techniques as Tombuie’s founders.
Robin steeps slices of wild Scottish venison in blended Scotch mixed with garlic and pepper to cure. The result is a marriage of flavours that come together in balance. He serves it finely sliced, with each whisp of venison falling lightly on the tongue.
Robin enjoys whisky regularly alongside his products that don’t contain whisky and would be familiar to attendees of Whisky Live London.
“I know whisky is all about the ‘nose’, but as a foodie how can one not get excited about the fabulous mix of flavours that it offers too? It provides such a colourful array of opportunities, it’s just screaming out to be included as an ingredient.”
Tombuie smoked cheese partners well with Glenmorangie 10 Years Old.
Annabel Meikle paired these with Balvenie Double Wood at Whisky Live London 2015 for a remarkable flavour combination.